« ZurückWeiter »
and Socinus—he has spoken freely, but kindly and courteously of each. He is, at the same time, the most candid of controvertists. He descends to no deceptive artifice, no captious subtleties. He states the case of his adversary fairly, and puts his argument strongly. He examines the evidence with' the acumen of a critic, weighs it with the impartiality of a judge, and decides upon it with the cautious wisdom and the bumble confidence of one who believes himself right, but feels how prone man is to be wrong. He opposes the blind zeal of some of his own com inunion with the same gentle firmness. He will not consent to withhold the Bible because the Common Prayer is not to go with it—to deny christianity to the heathen because its preachers may not be quite orthodox. Let sectarian bigotry, with her narrowness of mind and her hardness and coldness of heart, read these pages and blush at her own folly and deformity, or rather, if it be possible, let her “wish she might deny her nature and be never more, still to be so displaced.” Of this delightful and surpassing excellence of this exquisite humanity, in the old classic and Roman sense of the word-we claim for letters a good share of the credit. With all the native goodness of the man, and all the sincere piety of the christian, who can doubt but that the enlarged views of the philosopher, and the refined tastes and sensibilities of the scholar, had done much to subdue and soften his nature, to correct his opinions, to elevate his aspirations, in a word, to give greater scope, and grandeur and perfection to his whole being ?
So much for the ethical character of the work. We will now proceed to make a few observations upon its literary or intellectual merits.
These sermons were, almost all of them, composed for extra ordinary occasions, and delivered before learned bodies-at Oxford, at Lincoln's Inn, to Bible and Missionary Societies, &c. This remark is necessary to prepare the mind of the reader for a fair estimate of their peculiarities. What Phidias said to those who hastily found fault with one of his statues, is even more applicable to public speaking-suspend your opinions until you see it in the place for which it was intended. It must never be forgotten, that when and to whom are quite as important considerations to him who has to deliver, or to him who would rightly appreciate a discourse, as what it contains, or how it is put together. We have deemed it proper to make this precautionary observation, lest in this anti-classical age and country, certain critics should find fault with a Minister of the Gospel for imitating St. Paul and Jeremy Taylor so far, as to lay under contribution the stores of profane learning, and even, occasion
ally to illustrate sacred subjects by felicitous quotations from the works of heathen genius. We disclaim, however, for ourselves the necessity of such an apology. Our tastes, we admit, have been a little spoiled in these matters. Our studies have made us somewhat familiar with forms of expression, and with modes of thinking which the wisdom of this philosophic age has exploded as unsuitable to its own genius. All that we have to say, in of apology, upon this subject, is lubenter erramus.
We have been misled by those whose ways are, to us, ways of pleasantness, and whom we find it delightful to follow even when they go astray. It is in the best of schools that we have been taught this error-that of Hooker and Cudworth, and the incomparable prelate mentioned just now—the glorious old school of England, in her age of teeming fruitfulness, and healthy and robust vigor, when she had such men in her church to associate with her Bacons and Seldens, and Miltons in the State, and when the native genius of her offspring, mighty in itself as Achilles, was trained, like him, to every manly exercise of the palæstra and the gymnasium, and went forth to battle, armed from head to foot in a panoply worthy of its own surpassing powers. In that age, when knowledge was the aliment of so much origival thought, and the vastest erudition was but the proper instrument of the gigantic strength by which it was wielded, these sermons, however acceptable on many other accounts, would not have been complained of on the score of ostentatious learning or dazzling richness and splendour of diction. It by no means follows that they who accuse Jeremy Taylor of pedantry, should be dissatisfied with Bishop Heber.
The ends of preaching are various, and so, therefore, must its forms and characteristics likewise be. These, we think, may be conveniently arranged under at least four different heads or categories. The first embraces the fundamental inquiry into the evidences of Christianity. The second is that of exegetical theology; what, according to the soundest canons of interpretation, is the meaning of the sacred text—what are the doctrines it teaches, and the faith or the opinions it requires of intelligent beings. The third is moral theology, considering the scriptures as the rule of life, as a law dictated to moral agents by the Creator who formed them to obey it. The fourth is auxiliary to all the rest, and properly included in them, but we assign to it here a separate place on account of its singular importance in a scheme of discipline and the peculiar order of talents and accomplishments which it calls for in a preacher. It is the sanction by which this rule of faith and morals is enforced. It is the law in its terrors, and the gospel in its mercy and love. It is
religion, considered as a system of retributive justice-a grand scheme of rewards and punishments, addressed, if we may so express it, equally to the understanding which has to pass upon the doctrines of the faith and to the heart which is the seat of its purifying moral influences. From the bare stating of the objects which he is expected to accomplish, it is manifest that a consummate divine ought to exhibit in his intellectual character a union of such gifts and graces as are very rarely seen together. He should, indeed, be the first of men in the most improved condition of society—that image of a perfect orator which Cicero, or rather Crassus pictures in the Dialogue de Oratore, with every talent fully developed and disciplined, and an understanding full of light, drawn from all the departments of knowledge. The first and second branches of his studies render a perfect acquaintance with the learned, and with the Hebrew at least, and we think, in the present state of things, the other Oriental languages, indispensable. We have said, on another occasion—we repeat here--that we cannot conceive how any divine, whose circumstances afford him the smallest leisure or opportunity for such pursuits, should be content to grope in comparative darkness when it is in his power to ascend himself the Mount of Vision, and to see, with his own eyes, the things which it is so interesting to him, as a man, to know, and which he has assumed the awful responsibility of explaining to inultitudes committed to his care. But important as these higher departments of theological sciences undoubtedly are, a minister of the gospel has, in by far the majority of cases, a greater opportunity of doing good by cultivating, successfully, the more practical walks of his profession. Here, too, the highest talents are called for, and presented with the best field. In expounding the pure and sublime morality of the gospel-in diffusing its peaceful and charitable spirit-in exalting the aim and aspirations of men to objects worthy of their imn.ortal nature-in setting forth and dwelling upon the examples of just men in other times, “the victorious agonies of saints and martyrs"-in revealing that glorious and dreadful destiny which connects the happiness and misery of a future life with the moral responsibilities of the present-perhaps in ascending with Milton to still higher flights of inspiration and prophetic vision, to the fountain of all light and life and perfection:
“ The living throne, the sapphire blaze,
Where angels tremble while they gaze"there is nothing within the compass of human genius, no eloquence, no poetry, no divine philosophy which may not be dis
played in all its grandeur and power in the ordinary ministrations of the sanctuary, by a clergyman whose lips have been touched with a live coal from off the altar. How exalted is the station which he fills-how unspeakably sublime the privileges which he enjoys, if it be only with a view to intellectual greatness and cultivation? What do the worldly affairs of mankind, whether in public or in private, whether at the bar or in the popular assembly, or in the Legislative hall, even when extraordipary occasions call for extraordinary efforts, afford, that does not sink into insignificance, nay, almost into vulgarity, in the comparison ? Yet it is strange how little there is to be admired in English pulpit eloquence, especially since the period alluded to just now. . In a mere didactic exposition of Christian ethics, many, indeed, have attained to a high degree of excellencebut they are all, at best, what Doddridge calls Atterbury, “elegant courtly preachers.” There is no force-no fervor-no glowing conception of their mighty theme—no apostolic zeal in their awful calling. They do not sufficiently consider themselves as evangelists and missionaries. They are not enough impressed with that pointed remark of Jeremy Taylor, “that the conversion from Christian to Christian-from Christian in title to Christian in sincerity, would be a greater miracle than it was when they were converted from Heathen and Jew to Christian." Let it not be said that we are countenancing the grimace and extravagancies of vulgar fanaticism. By no means. There is not the smallest ground for apprehending such uncouth absurdities in men of cultivated understandings-especially in men educated as we think every divine ought to be. We do not ask for more fervor than Massillon, for more earnestness than Bourdaloue possessed. We would not require any one to surpass the brilliant fancy and gorgeous imagery of Jeremy Taylor, nor would we even have him to indulge in such dreams of bliss and beauty, such mystical raptures as dazzled and misled “the Elysian imagination” of Fenelon. But certainly there is a mighty chasm in pulpit oratory to be filled up. There is no Lactantius-no Christian Cicero, in the modern English or American church. This prize of the high-calling is still to be
With all the woful defects of clerical education in this country--we speak in reference both to knowledge and to oratory-we think we can descry, even now, some auspicious appearances: the English establishment seems to be past hope in this particular.*
* This frigid style of the English pulpit is remarked on somewhere by Erasmus, who speaks especially of the habit of reading sermons-de chartâ concionari, id quod multi frigide faciunt in Anglia.
Christianity thus coldly and tamely preached, is miserably shorn of her beams. She loses as much in power, as in glory and beauty. It seems to us a vulgar conception of religion, to suppose its precepts and exhortations as exclusively addressed to the understanding, as a proposition in geometry. This is not true even of morality, as it was taught in the schools of antiquity, or as it is practised in the ordinary conduct of life. The heart, as every body knows, has far more to do with virtue than the head. The voice of untutored, but unsophisticated and guileless nature, is worth, in morals, all the diatribes of philosophers, from the beginning of the world to the present time. It is happy for us that it is so-that in most important questions of obligation and duty, "our passions enlighten our understanding”--that instead of being perplexed with a doubtful casuistry, we have a safe guide in our instincts, and if we feel as we ought, are almost sure to do right. It is for this reason, that in all languages, virtue and beauty are synonimous terms—that vice is considered, not merely as a deviation from rectitude, but as a foul and unnatural deformity. It is for this reason also, that the best teachers of morality are not subtle metaphysicians nor exact system-mongers. It is they who take for granted almost all that these precisians prove, but burn their precepts into the very heart, if we may venture so to express ourselves, by their enthusiastic and ravishing eloquence-but inflame the whole soul of the aspirant with the love of moral beauty, and for a mere speculative principle, a cold assent, a vague abstraction, give him a living impulse, a ruling passion, a permanent and practical habit. The Nichomachean Ethics is undoubtedly an excellent work of its kind, but compare it with the ineffable raptures of Plato, or the sweet and persuasive eloquence of Tully! It is such writers as these, that in the better ages of antiquity, supplied the place of our modern sermons—that to use an expression of one of them, unveiled the image of virtue, and gave it to mankind to gaze, as it were, upon her embodied beauty, and to drink in with their eyes the deep and fervid love which it could not fail to inspire. But if this is true of ethics, it is still more applicable to religion. Revelation, to be sure, as revelation, addresses itself in the first instance, to the understanding only. The first question it presents, is one of evidence. But how small a share in the vital influences of christianity is implied in a mere speculative conviction of its truth? The heart must be softened by its charities, the mind must be filled with its grandeur; it must address itself to the passions, it must lift up and transport the imagination. Religion is a part of our nature.